Riverland growers dealing with fruit fly outbreaks would be familiar with Con Poulos, Incident Controller for the Fruit Fly Response Program with PIRSA.

While Con has only been in the role since November 2023, he has spent 10 years assisting on various fruit fly and grower committees, including the National Fruit Fly Advisory Committee.

“When this opportunity came up, I was lucky enough to be appointed as the Incident Controller for the fruit fly response here in the Riverland, which is a challenging but rewarding role,” he said.

As a Riverland grower himself, Con understands the pressures of navigating the complexities of a pest outbreak while continuing to produce and sell fruit. Con runs a small mixed horticultural property between Berri and Monash, growing winegrapes and citrus.

“I’ve got first-hand grower experience and have a lifetime of connections in the Riverland which helps,” he said. “It’s nice to be able to pick up the phone to a property owner for a chat about what they’ve seen.”

Con splits his time between the Barmera office where fruit fly operations are based, including the new Riverland Sterile Insect facility, and the Loxton Research Centre where PIRSA is based.

“Every morning in Barmera, about 170 people gather for a briefing, and then they go out and do what needs to be done for the outbreak response, which involves activities like baiting and checking fruit,” Con said.

“I also spend a bit of time in Loxton which is where the Market Access team is based. Their role is to keep the Riverland fruit market functioning, to enable fruit sales around the Riverland, the state, interstate and internationally. They work hard to keep the market access options open for growers during the response.

“Our local team at PIRSA and the industry work closely together in the response. The response systems are well known, for example, fresh fruit growers in an outbreak zone need to complete certain treatments, have secure fruit transport and so on.

“We’ve been working with industry for several years on these programs and growers are quite well versed in what they need to do. It’s difficult, but it’s not new.”

Con said 100% eradication of fruit fly in the Riverland is the goal. “My focus is getting these flies under control and getting the Riverland back to a pest-free area like we’ve enjoyed for decades,” he said.

“For winegrape growers, eradication is important so that fruit movement requirements can be a thing of the past. This will be the fourth vintage in a row that we’re operating under an outbreak scenario.

“We need to maintain the response and we have systems in place that maximise our ability to kill these flies, but we are working with the wine industry to make vintage as seamless as possible.

“We’re not introducing anything new this year in relation to fruit movement rules. The wineries and growers know what they need to do and we’re here to help with any issues that pop up.”

Growers in the Riverland will be seeing more of Con this year as he settles into his role and organises more meetings and property visits.

“I want to engage with industry and let them know what our teams are doing,” he said. “This eradication program needs to be a true partnership between government, the community and industry. We need to keep working together and if we do, I’m confident of success.”

Growers are encouraged to call Riverland Fruit Fly Coordinator Peter Rattray on 0487 394 813 with any questions or concerns about the outbreaks and what it means for them.

PIRSA Incident Controller Fruit Fly Response Program Con Poulos.